April 26, 2004

Jesus Christ, Superstar?

The topic of merchandising Jesus has been making the rounds lately. The latest entry into the fray is this article. The Evangelical Outpost has discussed it (read the comments on this one especially, for some links to other discussions). I just saw my first "Jesus is my Homeboy" T-shirt today.

I think the most telling quote comes from the Journal News article:

Jesus Christ has become too big for church. He's stepping out as a pop culture superstar, a leading man on page and screen.

But he's being portrayed as a character actor, a parable-telling chameleon who has radically different messages in each starring role.

America seems to love them all, contradictions be darned.

In the film "The Passion of the Christ," which has grossed more than $360 million, he is the Jesus of traditionalist Roman Catholic Passion plays, beaten and bloodied as he endures the Stations of the Cross.

In "Glorious Appearing," the final book of the "Left Behind" series, which made its debut last month as the nation's best-selling novel, he is the Jesus of the fundamentalist rapture, riding from heaven on a white horse to vanquish the armies of the Antichrist.

In "The Da Vinci Code," a literary phenomenon that has sold some 7 million copies, Jesus doesn't appear at all. But readers learn that he was mortal, married, a dad and a feminist, and that the Catholic Church concocted his divinity.

Add to this the mixed messages from Peter Jennings' latest ABC special, the findings of the Jesus Seminar, and the proliferation of "Historic Jesus" books on the market, and we really do each have our own personal Jesus. And some of them bear little resemblance to the Christ of Christianity.

When we mass-market Jesus, we need to be careful that the real Jesus Christ is what is being sold, not a watered-down pop idol who wants everyone to get along. As Jesus Himself said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34 ESV). There was no misunderstanding in His mind -- He knew that the things He came to do were going to cause problems. People don't want to know that they are responsible to a powerful God for their actions. They don't want to know that God holds them accountable for what they do. And in denying that, they miss the fact that God has given us an out -- grace. He knows we can't do it by ourselves. That's why He gave us His Son -- so that His righteousness could be imputed to us, so that He could make the sacrifice for us. Christ isn't a great example of how to live -- we can't live up to his example.

You want to see people trying? Check out the legalists. Look at what many fundamentalist churches have become (more on fundamentalism later on -- maybe tomorrow). People all over the world are living with a list of rules to try and make themselves good enough. We can't do it. The Pharisees in Christ's time tried to do it. They had 365 extra rules to live by, to make sure that they didn't break the Law. Jesus called them "whitened sepulchres" -- beautiful on the outside, great to look at externally, but full of death and corruption inside. What can make the difference? "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit," (Titus 3:4-5 ESV).

The grace of God is the answer. Christians need to proclaim it. The world needs to hear it. And it cannot be merchandised. It doesn't work very well on T-shirts or bumper-stickers. Wearing a WWJD bracelet doesn't get us grace. Going to the right church, or attending the right conferences, or reading the right books -- none of those will get us grace. Grace is a gift, given by God, to all who put their faith in Christ as Saviour.

Jesus isn't the newest pop idol. He's not my homie. He's my Saviour. Yes, he's my friend, but He's also my Lord. He went through one of the most brutal deaths imaginable, and yet He lives. Let's stop selling Him like he's a new fabric softener.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 11:13 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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